English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is there any difference in meaning between the 2 patterns: "cannot afford to + verb" and "cannot + verb"?

For example:

  1. I cannot afford to wait forever versus I cannot wait forever.
  2. I cannot afford to go versus I cannot go.
share|improve this question

closed as not a real question by jwpat7, Robusto, RegDwigнt Feb 2 '12 at 17:04

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Actually this is a real question. – kiss my armpit Feb 2 '12 at 17:47
If you could clarify the question, like giving some context, you might get an answer. As it is, yes there is a difference between them in some cases, but in other cases they can be equivalent. It depends on the situational context. – John Lawler Feb 2 '12 at 18:06
@JohnLawler: The available answers below have perfectly shed light on my confusion. Thank you. – kiss my armpit Feb 2 '12 at 18:17
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Afford is used here in the sense of tolerate the burden of. For example, we might say that we cannot afford to buy this automobile. This means the financial burden would be too much.

In your first example sentence, then, “I cannot afford to wait forever” means “I cannot tolerate the burden of waiting forever”. It means the cost (in time, money, or something else) of waiting forever is too much.

On the other hand, “I cannot wait forever” does not give a particular reason having to do with burden. It just says that waiting forever is not possible for you.

share|improve this answer

The “effort” inclusion implies a cost to the person doing the action – if I cannot afford to wait forever I probably have a deadline, and the cost is missing it. If, on the other hand, I cannot wait forever it might be because I would get bored, or I would die before forever. The emphasis is on the cost element.

“Cost” may be financial, emotional, reputation. It focuses on this rather than the fact that I don’t want to do something.

share|improve this answer
I accept your answer too but I have no more green check mark left. :D – kiss my armpit Feb 2 '12 at 17:15

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.